How to Pitch Your Book to Editors and Publishers
edited: Sunday, January 05, 2003
By Gini Graham Scott
Posted: Sunday, January 05, 2003
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Features tips on how to market your book to editors and publishers, including when to do it yourself, what types of editors to contact, and how to write a good query.
HOW TO PITCH YOUR BOOK TO EDITORS AND PUBLISHERS
by Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D., J.D.
(www.giniscott.com, www.giniscott.net, and www.CreativeCommunicationsResearch.com
Copyright © Gini Graham Scott 2002
This article is available for personal distribution to individuals as long as you distribute the full article and provide full credit, including the short bio at the end of the article and this announcement. But it is not for publication in either print publications or on other Web sites without written permission.
While the ideal is to have a good agent to help you find a publisher for your book and negotiate the best possible contract, you can still pitch your book to many editors yourself - and sometimes even help an agent who needs help. Another benefit of do-it-yourself pitching is that once you get an interested editor or publisher, that can open the doors to finding an agent who can takes over from there.
As a general rule, if you are writing nonfiction, start with a proposal; if you are writing fiction, complete the whole manuscript. In both cases, start with a query letter by regular mail or email (where editors are receptive - and now most are). In your query, describe the project and why you are in a good position to write and help the publisher market and promote your book.
When to Look for an Editor or Publisher Yourself
There are a number of times when you may prefer to go it alone:
- You have a specialized book for a limited market (ie: a travel guide, history of China, or report of a new psychological treatment ) and the book would appeal most to a niche publisher (ie: a publisher of travel books or an academic or professional publisher). An agent may not be interested in specialty books, since agents primarily focus on the mainstream commercial market. So if yours is such a book, you are generally better off finding the publisher yourself, as well as negotiating the final contract, perhaps with the help of a lawyer who handles intellectual property.
- You have a book that you think has broad appeal, but you donít have an agent. There could be any number of reasons for not having an agent - you have queried agents, but no one has responded; you donít know who to contact; you just fired an agent who didnít actively pitch your book; you are between agents; etc. Whatever your reason, you might do better by pitching your book directly, particularly if itís a timely book that will lose its appeal if you wait to find an agent. Then, once you gain the interest of an editor, you can use that interest to attract an agent and ask that agent to follow-up for you.
- You have an agent who has been handling your book, but your agent needs help. In this case, you really might do better with another agent, or maybe your otherwise enthusiastic agent just needs some additional leads from you. Commonly, this problem of an agent not knowing where to go now occurs, because agents have their own stable of editors to contact. But after that first circle has turned your book down, your agent may not know where to go next. However, once you make the initial contact, you can set the stage for your agent to handle the follow-up.
Whatever the reason, once you decide to contact editors and publishers yourself, hereís how to do it.
Deciding What Types of Editors and Publishers To Contact
A first critical step is assessing your manuscript to better target the appropriate editors and publishers. Smaller and mid-sized publishers will usually have a more limited area of focus, and editors are more likely to handle different types of books in this area, though some editors will have their own specialties. By contrast, in the bigger publishing houses, there are generally many imprints or divisions, and editors are often more specialized. So selectively target your queries to those editors who will be interested in your type of book.
While you canít know precisely what a particular house or editor may want at any particular time, since interests change with events and publishers can expand and contract their areas of interest, you can narrow down your contact list by thinking of your book in a series of general categories. Then look for editors and publishers who fall in those categories. The major categories include these:
Nonfiction: The major categories here include: general/commercial nonfiction (which includes memoirs, personal narratives, true crime), business, self-help/how-to (which includes books on popular psychology, health, fitness, and spirituality), pop culture/social issues/contemporary events, humor, illustrated books, academic books, and professional books.
Fiction: The major categories here include: general/commercial fiction, literary fiction, womenís fiction/romance, mystery/suspense/thrillers, and science fiction/fantasy.
If you are looking for an agent while you seeking a publisher, look for an agent who handles books in your area, too.
Another consideration in deciding what publishers to contact is the size of the publisher. While most everyone dreams of big mega-deals with the biggest publishers, only a relatively small number of books get this treatment - usually the high-profile celebrity and news event books that are expected to get big sales. Often the process of producing these books is speeded up, too, so what usually takes many months in the normal editorial process in the big houses occurs in a matter of weeks. As a result, a book can come out in a month rather than a more usual 12 to 18 months lead time in the bigger houses (which includes about 2-3 months to make a decision). By contrast, the smaller publishers usually make decisions and bring out books much faster - in about 6-9 months, but the advances are typically lower - about $1000-5000, versus $5000-20,000 for the average book in the bigger houses. (The 6-figure and million-dollar deals are generally just reserved for the high-profile books).
When you are going it alone, you can target both the bigger and smaller/medium houses, although itís a good idea to bring in an agent to handle negotiations with the larger houses. Alternatively, try contacting the smaller and mid-sized publishers yourself, while looking for an agent to contact the larger publishers, since some agents prefer to contact these publishers themselves and they donít want to take on a book that has been shopped around. On the other hand, other agents may be glad to step in once you have contacted publishers and gotten an initial expression of interest. The policies and personal preferences of agents vary widely. In any case, making the initial contacts yourself can speed up the process, since it sometimes takes several months or more to get an agent. But once you have generated some publishing interest, so the agent just has to follow-up, that definitely is a selling point for your manuscript.
Deciding Who to Contact
Once you have assessed your manuscript and have decided what types of editors and publishers to target, the next step is determining who to contact. For this you need a current list, since there is a great deal of change in the publishing industry - especially in the larger houses. For the most part, the smaller houses donít have such a high rate of change, since they are often small partnerships and family affairs, with a publisher and a few editors who are there year after year. But the larger publishers have a lot of turn-over, especially at the assistant to senior editor level. And in recent years, this pace of turnover has increased even more due to all the mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing, after several difficult, tumultuous years in publishing. As a result, many editors havenít moved anywhere else. They are simply gone.
Once you do have current data, direct your query to a specific editor, since a general query, such as one directed to ďthe editorĒ, will usually get tossed as junk mail or put at the bottom of an unsolicited queries file. While you can find assorted sources of information online or in the library at no charge, often these listings are incomplete, outdated, or provide only general information, such as the publishers name, address, and phone number. But they donít provide detailed information on specific names of editors or what they or their publishing house are most interested in publishing. Also, while many popular guides to editors and publishers might be a good source of general information (such as Writerís Market and the Writerís Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Agents), these guides are often outdated when it comes to the listings for specific editors (particularly the new ones who are the most likely to be gone). These guides also wonít have the latest addresses for publishers which have recently moved. The big problem in using these guides is the time between when the researcher for these directories collected the information and the date when they are published. The result is that, by the time they first appear in bookstores, they are already about 3-4 months behind - and the use of future dates can be misleading, such as when a 2002-2003 guide is actually published in 2001.
You usually canít get this information by calling yourself either - even if you want to take the time to make long-distance calls to publishers. Thatís because if you donít know who to contact, you often canít find out when you call, since the receptionists who answer the phone at the big companies will not give out any names. They will only confirm if a person is still there if you have their name. And if you get voice mail, still have to have the name to check if the editor is still there.
Thus, you need a really up-to-date list, whether you research it yourself or obtain one, such as available through CreativeCommunicationsResearch.com or the PublishersandAgents.com submission service.
Sending Your Queries to Editors and Publishers
When you send a query to an editor, you can send a query by either email (if available) or by regular mail. It is generally best not to call first, since most editors will ask you to send a query in writing.
So start with a written query first, and donít include your manuscript initially (except in the case of picture books for children), since almost universally, editors donít want unsolicited manuscripts. So donít send the full manuscript unless requested, except for the very short picture books, since those editors usually ask you to send it all. Also, include an SASE, so you are more likely to include a reply. If you include a check list for a response, either on a letterhead or postcard, that can speed up and make a reply more likely, too. Usually editors will not ask for an exclusive look, since they expect multiple submissions - unlike agents, who will sometimes ask for a short time to do their review, typically about 2-4 weeks.
Since it is not always certain what editors want, how receptiveness they are to new projects, and the types of material of current interest, a good way to make a first contact is to either send an email with a few paragraphs (all in the body of the email; no attachments!) or send an initial query letter and 1-2 pages of a more detailed description about your project and yourself, such as used by CC&R and PublishersAndAgents. Then, if editors are interested, they can ask to see more. This initial query approach is cost-effective, too, besides being preferred by editors, since it cuts down on the expense of sending more detailed full proposals or outlines and chapters on the first round. You are only sending additional materials to editors who request them.
Another advantage of this initial brief approach is you can send out multiple queries quickly and at little expense, since you are sending a short email at virtually no cost - or sending a letter with 2-3 pages of additional information at a cost of about $.75 a query (though add in some extra costs for labor if you hire someone do this for you). This multiple query approach also increases your chances of finding an editor and choosing among those who are interested in your project, since even with careful targeting, many editors will not respond or be interested for various reasons. (For example, when I have pitched my books to editors, generally once or twice a year, I have gotten a 25% response rate. Then about half of those who responded have wanted to see a proposal, and about half of those have been interested enough to take this proposal the next step in house - pitching it to other editors, marketing people, or their publisher. Generally, this process has resulted in sales of 1-3 books a year, and this is how I have gotten most of my 35 books published). So send multiple queries. It ups your chances of finding interested editors, and with multiple editors expressing interest, you have increased chances of not only placing your book, but getting a better publishing deal.
A good way to select and contact editors is with an editors/publishers list which is coded, so you can select the editors and publishers who are most appropriate for your project. Or use a submission service that will do this selection process for you.
- If you use a pre-formatted list, you can add the email addresses into your address book to send out your email queries. Or for sending regular letters, you can cut and paste the names or addresses or add field codes for sorting and merging, so you donít have to type each address individually. Instead, using any word processing program, simply cut and paste selected names and address onto your letters and envelopes, or take the names you select and format them into a database for merging and sorting.
- Or you can use a submission service that already has this information in its data base to send out queries for you to editors who are receptive to emails or to those who prefer submissions by regular mail.
In selecting these editors, if you are using emails, you can query multiple editors at the same house or who work for the same division or imprint at the very large publishers, since emails are shorter and more informal. But if multiple editors at the same house or division express interest, it is best to send your nonfiction proposal or fiction manuscript to only one of these editors or check with the editors whether to send this additional material to two or more editors at the same time. You can follow-up by phone or email to find out which editor to select. Just let the editors who have expressed interest know that you have gotten multiple requests for your material, and ask who you should send it to. In some cases, I have found that one editor prefers to review it; in other cases, the editors have asked me to send it to both, particularly when one works for the other).
If you are sending out your queries by a regular letter, it is best to only send a query to one editor at a particular house at a time - or perhaps two or three if this is a larger publishing house with a dozen or more editors. Then, if one editor doesnít respond in a few weeks, you can query another. Commonly, in the smaller houses, one letter is all you need, since if an editor isnít interested he or she is likely to pass it on to another editor who is. (I got several of my books published that way.)
The advantage of email is it is quick, easy, and inexpensive with editors who are receptive to this approach. The editor can simply hit ďreplyĒ to respond. But just in case the editor downloads your email for a later response or prefers to contact you by phone, be sure to include your name, email address, and phone number in the body of your email.
However, some editors still prefer regular mail, and some donít want any email queries. So to contact them, you have to use the old-fashioned letter way. And even if it is slower and more expensive, letter queries really do look more professional. If you do send your query by regular letter, include an SASE to increase your chances of getting a response. You can use printed labels on your envelopes or run them through your computer to create them more quickly.
Sending More Information to Interested Editors and Publishers
Once an editor or publisher has expressed interest, he or she typically wants to see certain basic materials. While different editors/publishers have slightly different requests for what they want, generally, they want to see the following materials. These are the same type of materials you would send to a prospective agent or to one who is representing you. So when you send of your queries, have these materials prepared and ready to go as soon as you get any requests to send them .
An advantage of creating this basic package is you have the information that most editors will want on hand for a fast reply - and you can add or subtract materials from this basic package depending on the editorís requests. This is the approach I have used in sending proposals to editors for myself, resulting in over 3 dozen sales.
For Nonfiction - Send a proposal package which includes:
Table of Contents
Overview of the book
Chapter by chapter outline, with brief descriptions for each
1-3 sample chapters (50-80 pages)
Description of the market
Your bio, including your credentials for writing the book, and
any promotional support you can provide
For Fiction - Send the following:
1-3 sample chapters (20-50 pages)
Then be ready to send the complete manuscript on request
For Childrenís Books
For younger children: send the whole picture book (if you didnít already send it with your query letter).
For older children: follow the nonfiction or fiction guidelines
About the author: Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D., J.D., is the author of over 35 books, primarily nonfiction in the areas of business, personal development, relationships, psychology, criminal justice, and pop culture. She has published several fiction books, has several film scripts in production or represented by agents, and writes childrenís books. She has a syndicated column on relationships at work and in business in a dozen publications, including the Oakland Tribune, 10 other East Bay papers, and the Los Angeles Downtown News. She developed the CCR Editors and Publishers List which lists over 750 editors and publishers for books, as a result of sending her own proposals to editors and publishers, and those lists are now being used by the PublishersAndAgents.com submission service. For more information on Gini Graham Scott, visit her Web sites at www.giniscott.com and at www.giniscott.net. For more information on the PublisherAndAgents submission service go to www.publishersandagents.com. For more information on the CCR lists, visit the CC&R Web site at www.CreativeCommunicationsResearch.com.
Web Site: Samples of Books and Articles by Gini Graham Scott
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|Reviewed by Cheryl Kaye Tardif
|Wonderful article! Wish I had had this years ago when I was first starting out!
Thorough and concise, this article gives the new writer a sense of direction, and a seasoned writer--a rejuvenated path to follow.
Although I've already published two novels (and numerous short works), I'm still searching for the perfect agent and publisher.
If all goes well, I may have a new publisher for my novel Whale Song...and a possible movie deal. :)
And then, I'll be back to square one with my next novel! lol
Thanks again for all of this info...I'm goint to print it off for future reference!
P.S. In the event that the Exec. Producer that's looking at Whale Song is not interested, can you please write an article on "How to Pitch to Hollywood"??
|Reviewed by Regina Pounds
|Informative and up-to-date.
Much success with your newest venture, Gini.